Everyone always says how important the basics are when you are training young horses but so many people overlook them in the hopes of getting quick results.
My thinking is that if you do everything the way you should in the first month or two, then the horse should be willing to just accept anything new you ask them to do.
Perfect example is this pony that I'm training for a family. They are hoping that he will end up being the right kind of horse for their 7 year old daughter and I am thinking that with a bit more time and experience, he'll be perfect for that. All in all, I've got maybe 60 rides on the little guy, he stands 13.1 hands tall and weighs maybe 700 pounds. He's been doing really good, still seeing the boogeyman in a few places but that's to be expected with a 3 year old.
Anyway, on with my story. I've been asked a few times over the last couple of weeks to do some day labor in a local feedlot, riding pens, pulling sick cattle, sorting, etc. Today was day 5 that I had ridden him up there over the last 2 weeks (with regular training sessions in between those days). He can open and close gates with the best of them and he's even really trying to be cowy, which I think is pretty impressive considering his mom is a Shetland. He's incredibly smart and as soon as you show him something once or twice, he's pretty well got it down...except when his momma's temperament comes out and he tries to refuse.
Today, I ended up riding half the place all by myself and that can get a bit tricky trying to sort out 1 cow out of a pen of 80-100 without letting any of the others out the gate. I was riding a pen and I noticed one that wasn't looking real great so I decided to pull her. I went and opened the gate wide enough for her to go out but she wasn't hearing any of that sorting business. We ran one direction, then the other, then back the other way again, back and forth, back and forth. I realized that there was no way I was going to drive her out the gate without some help but there was no help handy. I took a close look at her and saw she was kind of a dinky little thing that probably weighed 350-375 pounds.
At that moment, I just decided that I would give roping a shot and see how pony would handle it. So I stepped off, tightened up my cinches as far as they would go, got back on, and pulled down my rope. Pony had never been roped off of before and I had only swung my rope on him once before this. I tried to be as easy as I could and not run her any farther than necessary, mainly because there are some really slick spots in those pens and it isn't safe to get to running very fast. Me and little pony eased around in there and got as close as we could to her before she broke. I nudged him up into a little lope to try to stay on her hip but we couldn't stick with her. I was watching her and it was pony that saw we were headed right toward a puddle that didn't have a bottom in it (tried to walk through it earlier in the day and it was very deep and very slick). So he dodged that and we lost her. Second time around, she was not so lucky. Pony doesn't know how to track a cow very well, but he listened when I told him which way to go. I threw my loop and, miraculously, it went over her head.
Oh, and did I mention that it can really cause a catastrophe the first time you swing a rope on a young horse at a lope if they aren't good minded and prepared properly? Seen lots of horses bolt the first time. Anyway, when I saw I made the catch, I dallied up and asked for a stop. Boy howdy, little pony buried his butt and stopped that cow dead in her tracks. The most he did was raise his head a bit when that rope came tight and that back cinch went to pulling. I managed to use the rope to drive her closer to the gate and stop her when she tried to run the wrong way.
We got as close as she was willing to drive to the gate and the next time she tried to break, I just headed for the gate at an easy jog. Pony hesitated when the rope came tight and started pulling on the saddle horn, but when I said "It's okay, we really do need to go forward", he dropped his head and went to pulling like an old broke horse. We got her most of the way out of the gate when she went down at the exact moment that we hit a mud hole. Pony never stopped trying though and he would have been able to pull her on out of the pen, down or not, had he been able to get some traction but he just kept digging deeper and deeper trenches with his feet. When I saw we weren't making any progress, I stopped him, faced him up, and let the rope go lax so the heifer could get some air.
We sat there a few minutes until she decided that she wanted to get up again and try to break away back into the pen. Ha! When she was on her feet, around we turned and pony pulled her the rest of the way out of the pen with her fighting and bawling the whole time. Little pony handled the whole thing like a champ and if I didn't know any better, I would have said that he walked out of that pen feeling pretty darn proud of himself (and, of course, I gave him a scratch in all his favorite places and whispered a word of thanks).
I guess the moral of my story is that if you get a horse solid in the basics of training and respectful and obedient of whatever you ask, then they just learn to roll with the punches and are willing and able to do whatever you ask of them and do it with their whole heart instead of half-assing it.